Quinn Hopkins’ mural, situated at Hart House and depicting a pow wow in Toronto, merges technology and art in a provocative and highly original way; and brings with it a remarkable gift: the message of love.
Beginning this Fall, visitors to Hart House will be treated to a visually stunning piece of art: Intertribal, 2022, by Quinn Hopkins, a mixed media mural at the end of the eastern corridor on the basement level of Hart House, the area known as the Tuck Shop.
Hart House is an ideal location for this work due to its commitment to expanding its Indigenous Education programming, and because this student-based location provides many opportunities for students and youth, in particular, to engage with the mural.
Broadly speaking, Quinn’s work, which has garnered national media attention, is multi-layered and political. He hopes his art will inspire action, advocate for Indigenous sovereignty and decolonization.
He discusses this extraordinary mural, Intertribal; his aspirations as an artist; and what it means to him to have his first major solo project exhibited at Hart House.
Early Influences from his Youth
Quinn grew up seeing well-known Indigenous artists’ work at his best friend Caleb’s house. “I was fortunate to go to their home and see this massive collection. In their house, the artwork went from floor to ceiling, every wall was covered in beautiful Indigenous art. That was a huge, fundamental inspiration for me.”
Caleb’s mother was mentored by Indigenous educator and art dealer Conrad Bobiwash. He introduced her to First Nations abstractionists and famous contemporary painters such as Norval Morrisseau, Daphne Odjig, Alex Janvier and Arthur Schilling. “These were amazing, talented artists whose work has gone on to fill the Indigenous art collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada.”
Bobiwash also mentored Quinn and taught him the first forms and central ideas of the Woodland painting style before the young artist was 13 years of age.
In middle school, Quinn’s teacher (Miss Kean) let him skip recess to create artwork. “I was a quiet, shy kid. She offered that recess time slot for me to come into the art studio and paint or draw.” Miss Kean introduced him to ‘80s pop art from New York. The works of Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat broadened his artistic inspirations.
Quinn’s entrepreneurial parents also encouraged him to pursue art, although after high school, he first went into Engineering at UBC. This was not the right fit, so he returned to his first love (art) and was accepted at OCAD University. He credits his parents for instilling financial responsibility in his artistic pursuits. “My parents pushed me to explore my passions in a monetizable way, create budgets and buy my own art supplies.”
Intertribal as an Invitation
Intertribal certainly tells a powerful story. It depicts the Na-Me-Res Traditional Pow Wow at Toronto’s Fort York as seen against the city skyline. The piece includes a light feature, a light sculpture and an augmented reality component.
Quinn takes inspiration from new, innovative technologies and, through his art, he connects this technology with the land and his roots as an Anishinaabe person. He seeks to find new ways to visualize the spirit of the land and thereby reveal the many truths about humanity’s relationship with the land. Never afraid to experiment with new tools and mediums, he uses state-of-the-art techniques, such as 3D modeling, digital drawing, editing, creative coding and machine learning.
Quinn describes the meaning of this panel at Hart House: “It’s part of a pow wow, a celebration of life. It’s a place to share culture, food, songs and dances.”
Intertribal is actually the name of a specific dance. “It’s an invitation to anyone at the pow wow to come into the circle and dance. I think that’s a beautiful representation of community, unity and diversity.”
He loves the mood of this. “Everyone’s always having a good time, smiling. You get the tiny tots dancing in their regalia, the elders walking around and nodding to the beat, Native and non-Native folks having a good time, feeling like they’re part of it. It’s an invitation to participate in something that you usually think is exclusive.”
The eagle (Miigizi) has a powerful message: “In the seven grandfather teachings, the eagle is love (Zaagidiwin). That’s what I felt when I was thinking of the pow wow and intertribal: love; community; and love of the place, Tkaronto, where we’re standing and feeling represented. I love how the eagle is a sort of umbrella that holds everyone under one roof in that piece.”
Hopes to Inspire Students
“This is my first really big solo project,” Quinn says. “When I think about it, I get overwhelmed.” Since the pandemic, he had been seeking to engage with audiences in new and profound ways. “It’s hugely meaningful to me to inspire people and teach them new things. That was a really good feeling. It was healing to me. This makes me so proud.”
Through Intertribal, he sought “to remind viewers that Indigenous people are modern and cutting-edge innovators. We have a history of taking the newest tools and adapting them to our own purposes. We’re not stuck in the past. We look seven generations into the future.
“Having my work in Hart House is looking at the next generation, those students, those warriors who are learning and propelling our communities and our society into the future. It’s an honour to have them learn something new from this mural or just enjoy it; sit there, meditate or whatever people do when they look at art. Maybe it's a quick glance, but whatever it is, I hope it brightens their day or they feel something.”